Lean Forward

Our recent Lean Publishing conference reminded me of my recent experiences working for a UK publisher to develop its POD and ebook programmes.  The objective was to improve cash flow by reducing stockholding related costs while also increasing income.

I was fortunate in many ways, as when I took up the reins of the project, much of the initial ground work had already been completed for the print-on-demand side of things.  Print ready PDFs had already been sourced, the metadata had been collated, and the titles were mostly live with a POD supplier.

However, after discussion with our supplier I was able to make sure that we had the best terms available, which meant that our earnings from this programme increased considerably.

Optimising our use of POD meant that we saw a reduction in stock and related costs and an increase in backlist orders.  This improvement to our cash flow meant that we had money to spend on other projects.

E-books were the next priority.  Over the next 18 months 200+ e-books were converted from PDF to ePub and Mobi using the cash generated from the POD program to pay for the conversion fees.  Once the e-books were available they started to generate their own revenue steam and so contributed to the cost of later batches.  The whole project was profitable within 12 months.

As the programme progressed we were able to introduce better working practices to increase the efficiency of the workflow.  Some of the processes were brought in-house, as we increased our skills in this area.

I learned a few key lessons:

  • Automate if possible – Using manual processes inevitably means an increase in time and errors.  Compiling multiple Excel spread sheets for different suppliers is time consuming and no matter how  much care is taken, mistakes and/or omissions will be made.
  • A stitch in time – better to take time to check bibliographic information, proofread files, and test e-books on devices than to get them out early with mistakes.  It’s much harder to correct an issue once it’s live in the real world.
  • Standardise – in a digital world there are significant benefits to matching standard sizes and formats.  If you have lots of odd trim sizes and unusual cover designs and text formats then it’s an unnecessary complication.
  • Best practice – keep a record of how things are done and work internally to improve best practice.  Digital skills are the new lingua franca of publishing.
  • Upskill – As the process progressed the experience we gained definitely meant that we were able to improve best practice.  Some prices were brought in house to reduce supplier costs.
  • Own your IP – make sure you obtain and keep copies of all these page layout files, PDFs, images, ePuB and Mobi files.  Organise them so they’re easy to find and use.
  • The 3 Is – Ideas, implementation, iteration.  We learned as much by doing things and then learning to do them better, as we did by coming up with plans
  • Spread your bets – don’t spend lots of money on one big thing.  It’s actually quite easy to get up and running with digital projects, so try a few things and stick to what works.
  • Talk to your supplier – it’s a partnership. But don’t forget to check the competition to make sure your service and rates are competitive.  The digital marketplace is constantly developing.

Many of these things are skills that publishers have and lessons we know well.  And that’s the last lesson I learned.  Although digital means new markets, mediums and skills, there really is nothing to be scared of.  The risks can be managed and there are lots of new opportunities.